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Retiring congressman pins Rep. Jeff Duncan as potential nuclear waste, energy leader

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Jeff Duncan, ARC meeting

U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., pictured here speaking to the Aiken Republican Club.

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, a retiring Illinois Republican, sees South Carolina’s Jeff Duncan continuing the nuclear energy and nuclear waste fights in his absence, describing the Palmetto State Republican on Tuesday as enthusiastic and familiar.

Duncan, representing South Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District, is “the one I usually mention” when asked who to watch in Congress, Shimkus said at an afternoon Illinois Institute of Technology seminar.

“He’s from South Carolina, came out of the state legislature, was involved with utility and energy issues,” Shimkus said, later mentioning the 310-square-mile Savannah River Site south of Aiken.

“South Carolina has been very active in this debate. They were part of that lawsuit, that they won, claiming that the federal government was not complying with the law,” Shimkus said. “So, I’m pretty happy with South Carolina, and Jeff carries that mantle.”

Both Shimkus and Duncan have fervently argued for Yucca Mountain, what was once to be the nation's nuclear storehouse in a desolate stretch of Nevada. Both men are also members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over energy policy, nuclear facilities, environmental protection and hazardous wastes, among other topics.

Duncan, specifically, has promoted Yucca Mountain as the “law of the land,” a legitimate solution to the nuclear-waste impasse at the Savannah River Site, where millions of gallons of radioactive waste are kept pending processing. (Shimkus called it "problematic" defense waste.) The South Carolinian earlier this year denounced a House spending package — which favored interim storage — because it lacked money for the foundered repository.

“So here we go again: Voting on an appropriations package without funding Yucca Mountain because the federal government will not follow the law passed by Congress,” Duncan said at the time.

Shimkus on Tuesday said President Donald Trump has proven “wishy washy” when it comes to Yucca Mountain, which has been brought up several times in the race for the White House.

"To make a long story short, it has gotten politicized in presidential races," Shimkus said. "Both sides. Harry Reid got President Obama to say, 'I'm not going to spend any money on it.'"

Trump in February pledged to respect Nevadans and pursue other “innovative” solutions, a pivot away from previous budget requests in which his administration sought $120 million and $116 million for the repository.

“It doesn’t matter whether the Republicans or the Democrats control the House of Representatives or the White House,” Duncan said in July. “The law is ignored because of the politics of Nevada.”

Colin Demarest covers the Savannah River Site, the Energy Department, its NNSA, and government and politics, in general. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin.

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